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Mineral & Myth: Richard Carter

Architect Richard Carter connects the music of Keith Rowe and John Surman with his home town of Plymouth.

Mineral & Myth

My home town is an old, old town; straddling a boundary in remote language and landscape; yeth ha tir, quartered by water;


Deep chill waters lap a myriad of black metallic secrets in salty brine; sunken tin and lead lodes, rusted bones of long dead mariners, a distant glint of Spanish gold, corroded artillery and sodden oak now a home to silver fish. Across shining waters black rocks meet a wind beaten sheet of sky, mew screeches over a lonely island and the dim flash of a silent tower sounds back three leagues. On that horizon black sails first raised, and 60 times crossed, again and again, black carrion birds of war descending to peck this city to crushed lime dust. Hard granite faces that you see today are riven and damp with dew of tears. Half silent streets; a swollen mouth; a swallowed tongue.


But our city was raised up again by the arms of our grandfathers, rolled steel and Portland cement; my mother watched it raised from a skeleton of corrugated tin streets peopled by those hard smokers, lungs scarred by war, immigrants from a sad continent over the water. At the end of each day the shift-end foghorn sounded, floats across the silver sea and over slick roofs clustered like barnacles, the bronze mirror of the setting sun on western hills cast its brilliant light on darkening streets, oak and wet blue-grey limestone flecked with sparkling quartz, feet washed in sea foam. On our high green sward, the Giant’s Leap, they would gather and dance in gentle mizzling sunshine with hope in hearts for a brighter dawn.

The remaking of the city is the remaking of its myth

From the 13th floor of the modernist Civic Centre a privileged few city fathers once gazed manfully across their unfurling masterplan they sat and scratched out their visions with compass and razor paper-cut in rough ammonia soaked line. But eventually it all began to unravel at the edges; they knew this was the end of their era, they heard the last rattle of cups as the tea urn passed them by.

As dockyards fell silent in recession the youth of the city wasn't sleeping; piskey-led they danced all night on the dark moor under electric headlamps, or else in rotten sunken music theatres strung along Foulston’s notorious old rumbling strip; alive; electronic tempests raised by bards of an Other Country, cavernous hulls pounding and creaking. In the morning they would tumble wrecked on the beach, mitching the day to gaze at seagulls wheeling in an acid-tinged sky. My long-lost brother was one of these enchanted folk, and it wasn’t long before I too followed him out into the night...

In late 2017 artists Peter Liversidge and Matt Stokes were among those droll tellers invited by the city Arts Centre to lance an embittered public dialogue around the city and its future. Falling into despondent self reflection as economic focus has shifted from port to university, a seething debate has boiled over into the public realm , conflict over change and ownership, destruction and memory all simmering in the popular consciousness as new development begins to rise over the city.

Liversidge engaged in gathering the innermost dreams and fears of the people; words and thoughts compiled into a biblical tome from which phrases were selected and scribed onto placards carried into the social space of the city. Stokes documented the collapse of live music venues across the city recording local punk bands performing in now derelict spaces. These works of ‘social sculpture’ constitute a necessary critical therapeutic process of externalising a concealed inner voice and constructing a literal, even literary, narrative of place.

The deep-rooted sense of ‘specificity of place’ is an often-overlooked aspect of narrative building – or story telling – in both architectural practice and musical composition. Over years. I return down home in mind and body; the memory of our dockyards shudder in Keith Rowe’s deconstructed guitar and echo across water in John Surman’s Saltash Bells, but it is the back-to-front sound of hardcore, 808, 303 in drowned out basements that still resonates in ageing bones. Digital realities constructed in algorithmic data streams now synthesised in space; the intuitive guiding hand of human craft; atmosphere, proportion and emphasis on the human voice remain. Decisions must be structured by a recollection of ‘place’ a genius locus that identifies the sound of city; the dialect of a people. Emerging from the globalised digital fog of ‘non place’, it is the vernacular I seek out; the sound and feel of the real; the silence in the storm, the Atlantic slapping in the masts.

richard carter architect / hicca carryer pennSer